What wildness awaits Packers out west?

Green Bay’s crazy history in Arizona serves as backdrop to strange week

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QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Of course the trip is to Arizona.

Where else would the Packers be heading for a big game without two of their best receivers and their defensive coordinator, being forced to adjust on the fly on both sides of the ball, on a short week no less, to face the NFL's only undefeated team?

If there's a place where Packers games reach the height of insanity, it's what is now called State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

Six years ago, Green Bay's situation at receiver wasn't much different in the 2015 NFC Divisional playoff. Jordy Nelson had been out for the whole year, Davante Adams got injured the week before in the wild-card round, and then Randall Cobb exited late in the first quarter after making a spectacular, one-handed catch of a 50-yard rainbow while falling on his back.

Not only did the incredible grab not count because of an offensive penalty, but Cobb punctured a lung on the play, possibly caused by the sound device being worn under his jersey as a mic'd up player for NFL Films.

"It's probably the best one that never, uh, happened," Cobb recalled this week, ranking the catch as the greatest of his career.

So while Cobb spent the second half at a Phoenix hospital feeling "like Gerry Bertier (in 'Remember the Titans') … kicking nurses out" of his room while watching the rest of the game, Aaron Rodgers was down to James Jones, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis at receiver with the season on the line.

Then a fourth-and-20 bomb followed by a Hail Mary, both to Janis, sent the game to overtime, only to see future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald dash the Packers' dreams of a playoff miracle.

"What a wild finish that was to that one," Rodgers said.

Just as crazy was the playoff game six years before that, Rodgers' first in the postseason, the 2009 NFC Wild Card contest.

Rodgers threw an interception on the game's first play, Donald Driver fumbled on the Packers' third offensive snap, and the Cardinals had a 14-0 lead less than six minutes in.

Green Bay's deficit ballooned to 31-10 early in the third quarter, "and then back we came," Rodgers said.

The Packers got two touchdowns sandwiched around a successful onside kick. While Cardinals QB Kurt Warner was throwing his fourth and fifth TD passes of the game (against just four incompletions), the Packers kept answering as second-year tight end Jermichael Finley set a (then) franchise postseason record with 159 receiving yards and little-known Spencer Havner caught a TD pass.

Green Bay tied the game twice, at 38- and 45-all, the Cardinals missed a field goal in the waning seconds of regulation, and the Packers won the toss to get the ball in overtime.

"97-nude-right-X-fish" was the call on the first play, which Rodgers has never forgotten. Greg Jennings had a step on his defender deep down the middle, but the ball was just out of reach.

"Greg made his guy spin around and if I put a little air on that, it probably would've been a walk-off 80-yarder to win," Rodgers said.

It was all over a few snaps later when Rodgers was hit and lost the ball, the officials missed a facemask call on Michael Adams, and Karlos Dansby scooped and scored with the fumble to end the highest-scoring NFL postseason game ever.

"So disappointed about obviously the way that thing finished," said Rodgers, whose 423 passing yards that day still remain tops in the team's postseason record book.

With all the strange circumstances heading back to Arizona again – the Packers haven't played there since the '15 playoffs, and neither has Cobb, actually – what's in store for Thursday night?

It's not a win-or-go-home game, but it's still a biggie with the Cardinals 7-0 and the Packers 6-1. Rodgers also mentioned it'll be the Packers' first indoor game with crowd noise in a long time, since the 2019 regular-season finale at Detroit, to be exact.

In that vein, Rodgers emphasized the Packers will have to "withstand the initial surge of energy from the crowd and from obviously their defense," which didn't happen in the regular-season trip to Arizona in 2015.

In that game, a banged-up offensive line was overwhelmed from the start, Rodgers was sacked eight times, the offense turned the ball over four times, and the Packers lost by 30.

Green Bay's recovery three weeks later in the playoff tilt was remarkable enough before all the late-game dramatics that turned it into a game for the ages, just like the one six years prior.

"Special, special moments," Rodgers said of the two postseason classics. "Obviously came up short on both of 'em, but lot of fun."

If any more fun or special moments are in store after a (short) week like this one, they'd only happen in Arizona.

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